By Cassandra McKenna
Every product that Susan Vanriel-Smith offers stems from daily life with her children.
“My biggest inspirations were my first two sons,” she shared. “I was first introduced to the world of autism through my oldest—they are both on the spectrum at completely different levels.”
Vanriel-Smith’s second son has helped her realize how different people are and how important it is to accept those differences. Her son, who is non-verbal and only communicates when given cues and with a talking device, motivates her daily.
The products offered by Gifted One Princes are genuinely from the heart. “I live in this world and I have a lot of experience,” she shared. “There are other companies like mine, but I feel like I take it up a notch. I saw a way that I can help others to get through some tough times.”
Vanriel-Smith runs the exclusively online store—that offers apparel, accessories and other products that feature messages related to autism and other disabilities—with a little help from her family and some outside resources. She hopes to eventually expand to vending at pop-up markets.
Gifted One Princes just recently launched in July. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
“There are a lot of people unemployed at the moment and though they may want to support you and make a purchase, they can’t because they are not in a position to do so,” Susan explained.
Because she knows that feeling well but is limited financially because of the pandemic, she tries to find creative ways to support other small businesses, like sharing through social media.
Pre-COVID, Vanriel-Smith and her family participated in many Walks for Autism, including at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. While walking may be on hold for now, she’s continued to support the cause by making donations and spreading awareness. She also donates a percentage of the business’s earning bi-annually to support autism research. Eventually, she’d like to donate to local schools that hold special needs programs.
“I am inspired by everyone who works with special needs," she shared. "I have worked with a lot of people over the years and have a profound respect and love for them. It takes special people with hearts of gold to work with the special needs population. It takes a very different kind of person. It isn’t easy, but they can make it look that way.”
Gifted One Princes is truly a family-operated business. Vanriel-Smith handles the day-to-day operations, her husband assists with technical aspects, her sons model products and her oldest son helps with packaging up orders.
Vanriel-Smith has been able to connect with many different people while wearing her Stolen Hearts t-shirt. “I often get stopped and questioned about it,” she shared. “It feels good to listen or offer some advice to that person about what may work for me that they can try. It opens room for conversation without being judged. It is letting others know they are not alone.”
While she works with various artists and printers to bring her creative ideas to life, Vanriel-Smith comes up with the designs for all of the products and each one represents some part of her life. Her children inspired the logo for Gifted One Princes, with the three crowns representing her three children.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer.”
One of their most popular items is the Be Kind t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/be-kind). Vanriel-Smith’s oldest son experienced bullying in middle school which inspired the message to show love, be kind and be understanding.
The Loud and Clear t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/loud-and-clear) was inspired by her oldest son who has always struggled with eye contact. “It is one of the hardest things for him to do and he is very insecure about it,” she shared. “It can take away from his self-confidence.”
The message on the Loud and Clear t-shirt says I may not look at you when you speak but I can hear you clearly. Messages like these help to bring awareness to autism and other disabilities, which is something that Susan plans to continue as the business expands.
“I hope to one day be a motivational speaker for the cause,” she shared.
Vanriel-Smith is originally from rural Jamaica, where resources are lacking for people with disabilities. “I would love to be able to bring more awareness to the island, help to open facilities, and offer therapies and schooling to help children and young adults. There is so much I see in the future for us. We have big dreams and goals.”
She hopes that people from all over the world will become familiar with the name Gifted One Princes.
“My hope is to expand. I hope our products reach the homes of many people all over the world. We are currently shipping to Canada, but soon this will be worldwide.”
Gifted One Princes offers quality products made from fabrics and prints that can hold up after many washes, and Vanriel-Smith pays attention to detail, quickly addressing any issues that might arise.
“Quality means a lot to me,” she shared. “I want my customers to feel the love I have for my business. I meet the expectations of the customers. I ensure that they will get what they pay for.”
She also translates this to her packaging, putting personal touches on each one, with the goal of ensuring each customer is happy.
“I think great customer service is exceeding expectations,” she shared. “A great attitude and being knowledgeable about your business and products is also a plus. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important priorities.”
She also puts a priority on resolving issues in a positive manner and working towards gaining customer loyalty.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased some items and was very impressed. My favorite item was their canvas bag. Customer service was excellent and shipping was fast—I placed an order on Sunday and my package arrived by that Tuesday morning!
Gifted One Princes hopes to add more products to their site and are currently working on homemade organic natural skincare and hair products. “We have been working on this for months now, perfecting our formulas and getting everything right before we add the line to the business,” shared Vanriel-Smith.
Despite some setbacks, Vanriel-Smith continues to push forward. Even though they have faced some challenges and hard times, her children continue to give her strength, hope and motivation.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most,” she shared. “It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer. We pray together.”
At a time when the world could use more understanding and kindness, it is wonderful to see a business that finds different ways to encourage others while also spreading awareness about autism and special needs.
Visit Gifted One Princes at https://giftedoneprinces.com/ or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Gifted-One-Princes-LLC-111514053964176) or Instagram (https://giftedoneprinces.com/).
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By Natasha Samuels
Craig Wright is beating the odds. His Vernon restaurant, Craig’s Kitchen, recently celebrated its third anniversary, and despite navigating a global crisis that has had an enormous effect on restaurants, his is on track for continued success.
Why? Wright believes that self-reliance is key to weathering storms like the pandemic.
“I am able to do most of the work myself,” he explained. “And not have to pay other people to do it.”
Like most businesses, Craig’s Kitchen was forced to pivot quickly to survive the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown. The dine-in area is now closed, and a newly constructed takeout window allows patrons to place and pick up orders with no contact. Wright is also offering a paired down menu and has partnered with mobile food delivery services like Uber Eats and GrubHub.
Wright currently manages all aspects of the restaurant, including whipping up Craig’s Kitchen favorites like fried fish, barbecue ribs, mac n’ cheese and candied yams—recipes that he says he learned from his mom.
“My grandparents were from Alabama,” he shared. “They cooked Southern food and it was passed down from my grandparents to my mother and then passed down to me.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Wright plans to continue with his annual community-based programs. “Every [year] we throw a community Thanksgiving dinner [that] anyone can attend,” he said. This year his Thanksgiving feast will be on Thursday, November 26 from 12:00-3:00pm. All are welcome and COVID guidelines will be in place to keep patrons safe.
Wright sees the Thanksgiving program as his way of giving back, and it has helped him gain press in local print media as well as NBC, ABC and FOX Connecticut affiliate stations. He was also recently invited to appear as a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. These features have provided publicity and public relations opportunities that are invaluable and aid the success of his business.
Things are looking up now for the 33-year-old former Detroit native, but he says that his life has been a roller coaster. “I have come from homelessness. I’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs,” he shared.
It’s hard to imagine, but he says that he did not have any long-term goals during his youth and never imagined that he would one day open a restaurant. He says he was in and out of trouble through his early twenties and it continued until he was sentenced to substantial time to a Connecticut prison.
“My grandparents were from Alabama. They cooked Southern food and it was passed down from my grandparents to my mother and then passed down to me.”
“They sentenced me to three and a half years, and I ended up doing three of those years,” he said. “I never thought about the future and that's one thing that changed in me when I went to prison. I stopped and I [decided] that I definitely have to change everything,” he said.
He spent his last 6 months of his sentence living in a halfway house.
“When I was in the halfway house, I ended up getting a job in a restaurant and I worked my way from dishwasher through the ranks, all the way to a sous chef,” he shared. “I worked at different restaurants and it all culminated to this,” he said.
At one point, Wright was even working four jobs at a time.
He learned about the availability of restaurant space in Vernon from an old high school friend. “I had the opportunity to buy the business [and] as soon as the opportunity came, I just took it,” he said proudly.
But he wasn't necessarily prepared for it. “I definitely wasn't financially prepared, and I wasn't mentally prepared for it,” he shared. “I felt that the opportunity was too good to let pass so I just did it and I've been here three years now.”
His advice for anyone who is looking to start a business is to simply go for it.
“There are a lot of naysayers, [but the] bottom line is you go into business to make money. You are going to have to take a shot to do that. You can help someone else make money—that’s the safe route—or you can take a shot and try to do it yourself,” he shared.
The ability to persevere and ingenuity can also take you far, and something that many business owners need. “Everyone [doesn’t] succeed. Owning a business is not easy. Everyone does not own a business. That's for a reason. It's hard work. No one cares about it but you. You have to treat it like a baby. You get out of it what you put into it,” he explained.
As for Wright, he’s putting his all into his business and hungry patrons keep coming back for more.
Craig’s Kitchen is located at 13 West Main Street in Vernon, Connecticut. They are open Monday through Friday 11:00am to 8:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00am to 9:00pm. Find Craig’s Kitchen online at www.craigssoulfood.com and on Instagram.
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By Alexandra Frisbie
People from all different ages and backgrounds are signing up for Duane Hinkson’s pistol permit classes, the vast majority seeking one thing: safety through self-defense.
A self-described “advocate for reasonable gun laws and protections”, Hinkson—owner and instructor of CT NRA Instructor--understands second amendment rights but also appreciates the need for common sense gun laws.
“Guns shouldn’t be a political issue—everyone has the right to own one,” he explained.
A father to three children, Hinkson believes in responsible gun ownership. “I always make sure my gun safe is locked, out of reach, and the kids were never given the code,” he explained. “After you get a pistol permit, if you can’t buy a gun and gun safe at the same time, buy the safe first, because it is more important that you have a safe place to keep the gun before you actually have one. That is responsible gun ownership.”
“Once people learn how to use a gun and have been carrying for a while, most find that their lives aren’t in as much danger as they thought. Chances are they will never need to use [a] gun and they will discover that having the ability to protect and defend themselves and their family is probably the best thing about gun ownership,” he shared.
Hinkson had no interest in guns until 2007, when the Cheshire home invasion happened. He recalled thinking at the time that things like the Cheshire invasion “aren’t supposed to happen in Connecticut,” especially not in a quiet town like Cheshire. He realized that if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
His next step was to get a pistol permit. Once he obtained a permit, he wanted to practice shooting with his friends, but they didn't have their firing permits. So he became an instructor so he can teach them. Hinkson expanded his pistol permit instruction in 2008, when he began renting a classroom space in Bristol. Demand was high—more than 345 people signed up for his class in one day. He was the first instructor in Connecticut to work with Groupon. Because of this, he began offering instruction on the weekends and today he has a permanent space to provide classroom instruction year-round.
“Once people learn how to use a gun and have been carrying for a while, most find that their lives aren’t in as much danger as they thought. Chances are they will never need to use [a] gun and they will discover that having the ability to protect and defend themselves and their family is probably the best thing about gun ownership."
In Connecticut, residents without felonies or misdemeanors have several options to get a pistol permit and learn how to properly use a gun. NRA Basic Pistol Course classes do have a fee, and for those who choose to purchase a gun, the prices do vary. According to Hinkson, the best gun to buy is the gun that is best for you. “It’s the one you’re most comfortable with,” he explained.
During his class, he teaches students the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to own a firearm safely. Hinkson prides himself in providing the best instruction possible, limiting his classes to 10 people at a time.
“Some instructors run ‘permit mills’, meaning they try to get as many people permitted and make as much money as possible,” he explained. “But with 30 people in one class, not everyone can ask questions and learn how to properly handle a firearm.”
Hinkson is a member of the National African American Gun owners Association, the Black Gun Owner’s Association and the NRA.
To sign up for a Basic Pistol Permit class with Duane, visit CTNRAInstructor.com. Classes cost $150 and are completed in one day and include a classroom portion and a live firing portion at a nearby gun range. Use promo code SHOPBLACK to take $25 off your registration fee! Hinkson also provides weekend, evening and private instruction.
CT NRA Instructor is located at 171 Market Square Suite 203, Newington, CT 06111. Follow CT NRA Instructor on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
Gizelle E. Tircuit and her daughter, Janelle Posey-Green, started their New London-based holistic mental health practice, Magnolia Wellness, LLC, in 2016 not only to benefit the community, but to allow them to feel good about what they were doing.
Tircuit is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a background in education and is currently at the write up stage for her Ph.D. in Counseling, while Posey-Green is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who has worked in the non-profit mental health field. They feel that the hearts of big institutions were in the right places when they were smaller, but as they grew they missed the mark. They didn’t want to have to meet a certain quota for how many clients they needed to see in a week.
Being the owners of their own practice allows them to steward Magnolia Wellness LLC in the exact direction they want to be in. They offer programs such as DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), Positive Parenting, SMART Recovery group therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy ), sound healing, energy balancing and cleansing, as well as ancestral healing practices and other Holistic treatment approaches.
“We have an eclectic approach,” says Tircuit, “Many times it becomes a combination to find what the client needs.” Posey-Green adds, “One thing that Mom and I are adamant about is finding out if we are the right fit for the person. It’s not just about money. That's one of the things I didn’t like about bigger places. It goes back to ethics, it’s all about what the client needs.” Tircuit maintains her teaching license with a certificiaton in Special Education, so that she can support families with 504 plans and IEPs.
Originally from New Orleans, the mother and daughter pair take much pride in their roots, and have incorporated the magnolia, Louisiana's state flower, as their business namesake. Posey-Green uses her Creole roots as a springboard for teaching her clients practical ways to incorporate indigenous self-care practices into their lives at home. She uses sound bowls and smudge sticks, as well as teaching people to regulate their own energies with fire breathing, dance, and sound. She says that many of her Black clients come for these indigenous practices that don’t necessarily come naturally to them.
After moving to Connecticut from Louisiana, Tircuit says they went from living in a community in Louisiana where her children saw Black adults who were doctors, attorneys and all the other professions in a community made up of different professions and families to Connecticut where there were only two Black families in their community. She didn’t let that deter her and made sure to expose her children to Black professionals. “Janelle [Posey-Green] was exposed to many Black women professional therapists,” says Tircuit, “We are all very close, and she got to see these beautiful Black professional women.”
"One thing that Mom and I are adamant about is finding out if we are the right fit for the person. It’s not just about money. That's one of the things I didn’t like about bigger places. It goes back to ethics, it’s all about what the client needs.”
The impact on Posey-Green was profound. “My mom never stops. There is nothing she can’t do because I’ve seen her do so many different things. As an adult, I know I can because she did.” Tircuit admits she had reservations about opening up a private practice, but she says Posey-Green was her cheerleader. “We motivate each other and we are inspired by each other as a family,” she shared.
Magnolia Wellness also strives to impact their community as a whole. Posey-Green has taken on the role of being a community leader, creating several online communities. After COVID hit, the CT BIPOC Mental Health & Wellness Initiative was created to provide a safe space to openly discuss the impact of the pandemic and racial trauma on Black, Indigenous, people of color. Posey-Green says CT Therapists and Healing Practitioners of Color was created because “we are not all the same, so we deserve options. You shouldn’t have to stick with a professional just because they have the same cultural background as you.” And SECT Naturalistas was created when she was working with teens and found that many did not have role models who looked like them. While Posey-Green takes on being the public face for these communities, Tircuit’s contributions are more in the background.
Although most therapy appointments are currently being done virtually, the mother-daughter pair says that being treated in their practice is an experience. Whether a session is done online or in person with sage burning or an essential oil diffuser going, their clients are treated with dignity and taught stability and endurance. “It all goes back to our roots, our sense of community and culture,” says Tircuit.
Magnolia Wellness is located at 302 State St, New London, CT 06320. Click here to learn more.
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By Barry Alexander, Founder & CEO of Aquiline Drones
After years of continuous development, Connecticut-based Aquiline Drones (AD), the nation’s only Black-owned drone manufacturing and technology company, is now just a few months away from launching the nation’s first true “Aquiline Drone-on-Demand” (ADoD) mobile app.
Akin to Uber and Lyft, individuals and businesses will enjoy the luxury of ordering both private and commercial drone services right from their fingertips!
ADoD will be accessible through all mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, in which the user may order a variety services including aerial photography, videography, utility inspections (power lines, wind turbines, bridges, tunnels, railroad tracks), outdoor events, home security and beach patrol, search and rescue missions, precision farming and many more.
“AD’s drone-on-demand service is an exciting new product that was designed to lower the threshold of safe and responsible use of drones in society,” said Barry Alexander, CEO, and founder of Aquiline Drones. “It’s a modern-day convenience everyone should have!”
AD’s in-house manufactured drones are equipped with capabilities such as AI-assisted object recognition, 4K video recording, and many other essential features to meet customers’ requests.
Alexander notes that drones are expensive and not very easy to control. One bad move and an amateur pilot could be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage, or a full drone replacement. ADoD essentially removes the risk of hardware loss and liability from bad or unethical piloting and ensures that all missions will be completed by graduates of AD’s Flight-to-the-Future (F2F) program, an online, drone pilot training course and employment opportunity for anyone 18+, certified by the FAA. Enrollment into the program can be accessed via: ADflight.to/future
In addition, users of the app will have the unique experience of interacting with the drone(s) while performing jobs or missions. App users can also create an AD Cloud account where they will be able to obtain footage of the recorded content in real time, or after the job is completed.
“We envision a world in which drones are constructively and harmoniously incorporated in society, using their real-time control features, autonomy and analytics to reduce costs, optimize business operations, minimize carbon footprints, create new business value and, most importantly, save lives,” concludes Alexander. “Our new ADoD app is another step in making that vision a reality.”
About Aquiline Drones
Aquiline Drones is an independent, Black owned, American drone company founded by highly experienced aviators, systems engineers and IT gurus. With a customer-centric model, US-based manufacturing and supply chain and world-class MRO services, the company offers innovative and successful ways for using drones in commercial activities.
Supported by a dedicated UAV cloud and real-time OS, autonomous drone operations with real-time control and dynamic in-field decision making capabilities, Aquiline Drones’ full-spectrum of technological solutions provide a more expansive and deeper applicability across countless industries and environments by delivering real-time data insights. Aerospace-compliant processes for software, hardware manufacturing and systems integration, along with best-in-class mission capabilities are being planned and designed as the company continues to create strategic partnerships with Federal, State and private organizations in an effort to develop and launch new drone system applications in a collaborative manner. Visit www.AquilineDrones.com for more information.
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